Despite struggles, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Crawford not about to doubt himself

 
 
Updated 3/10/2019 8:32 AM
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  • Corey Crawford stands in net against the Anaheim Ducks. On and off the ice, it's been a trying season for the Chicago Blackhawks goalie. Still, the veteran carries on with a positive, upbeat attitude and genuinely believes better times are around the corner.

    Corey Crawford stands in net against the Anaheim Ducks. On and off the ice, it's been a trying season for the Chicago Blackhawks goalie. Still, the veteran carries on with a positive, upbeat attitude and genuinely believes better times are around the corner. Associated Press

Perhaps the most important trait of any elite goalie is to have a short memory.

Every time a puck gets past them, they flush it and forget it.

Done. Over. Make the next save.

This has always been the way that the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford has operated, but one had to wonder if doubt was creeping into his mind after allowing a combined 10 goals to Los Angeles last Saturday and Buffalo on Thursday.

"No. Not at all. Not at all," said a reflective and composed Crawford inside MB Ice Arena after practice Friday. "Looking at positive things and just looking forward. We got the win (against the Sabres) and that's what matters. Just working hard to get better -- that's all."

Crawford started in Dallas on Saturday and allowed just 1 goal on 27 shots in the Hawks' 2-1 victory. It was his fourth start since missing over two months with a concussion.

David Kampf and Alex DeBrincat scored for the 29-30-9 Hawks, who are 7 points behind Minnesota and 8 behind Dallas in the chase for the final two wild-card spots. DeBrincat now has 37 goals.

Still upbeat

The fact that Crawford's attitude remains positive -- despite posting by far the worst numbers of his career -- has to be encouraging to his coaches and teammates because they obviously know what he's capable of at his best.

We all do.

We saw Crawford lead the Hawks to Stanley Cup titles in 2013 and 2015, and nearly another one in 2014. His rock-solid play continued the next 2½ seasons as he went 83-45-11 and posted the fifth-best save percentage in the league over that time at .923.

His resume was beginning to look Hall of Fame worthy -- and still might to some -- but there is reason to be concerned by his play of late.

Shots he'd normally save are getting by. He's very rusty in how he plays the puck behind the net. And against the Sabres, he twice forgot to BANG, BANG, BANG his stick on the ice as power plays were coming to an end.

Have the concussions and everything that came with them -- the time off, the constant rehabbing, the painful and debilitating headaches -- robbed Crawford of what he used to be?

It's impossible to know for sure, but even a half-second of hesitation or loss in reaction time can mean everything when you're trying to stop the best in the world.

"I don't think I'm there yet," Crawford said when asked if he's seeing the puck as well as he used to. "But I'm trying to feel better every day and compete. I mean there's real no answer. I am where I am right now, and I've just got to work to (get) to where my game was."

Little help, please?

It's obviously unfair to shine the spotlight on Crawford's numbers on the goaltender himself. There's plenty of blame to go around.

Remember, just three years ago the Hawks trotted out a D corps that included Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival and Erik Gustafsson. Plus, they had tenacious backchecking forwards like Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, Andrew Desjardins and -- obviously -- Jonathan Toews.

Now the D corps consists of a 35-year-old Keith, a 33-year-old Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Gustafsson and a few kids. Gustav Forsling, Slater Koekkoek and Carl Dahlstrom have a combined 251 games of NHL experience. Also don't forget that a 19-year-old Henri Jokiharju, who should probably be in a top-four role right now, is being asked to grow his game in Rockford.

Said Crawford: "You can't really look at one thing and say, 'Oh, yeah. (It's) defense.' Or 'Oh, (it's) the goalies.' It's a team game.

"Forwards have to come back and help out too. They've got to backcheck and take late guys. They've got to be in the right positions and block shots. You're not going to get low goals against with just goalies."

Crawford then pointed to the Islanders as a great example. One season after allowing the most goals in the league, they are No. 1 this season at 2.36 per game and firmly ensconced in a playoff spot.

"And their team hasn't changed," Crawford said. "They got (goalie Robin) Lehner, but it really hasn't changed that much. ...

"As a whole we're just in higher-scoring games. I mean we're scoring a ton. … That's as best as you can put it. Maybe if we tighten up a little bit more, who knows? Maybe it goes in our favor.

"But I don't think we're playing bad at all. Our game is good and we've just got to find extra. I mean (against Buffalo) we did our job. They came back and got some goals, but we stuck with it.

"This team has confidence to score goals, so I'm not too worried. Just keep working hard and I feel confident."

The future

Those who want to put Crawford out to pasture and tell him he should retire should pause and take a deep breath. As stated earlier, this man might be the biggest reason the Hawks celebrated two of their three Stanley Cup titles this decade.

He deserves every opportunity to prove to teammates, coaches, fans and -- most importantly to himself -- that he still has what it takes to be an effective NHL goalie.

Crawford definitely showed glimpses of his old self at Dallas on Saturday, especially when he deflected a point-blank blast by Jason Dickinson to keep the game tied at 1-1 in the first period.

He also turned away tough shots by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov in about a 2½-minute span late in the second with the Hawks nursing a 2-1 lead.

The Hawks' defense came to play as well, blocking 21 shots, 7 by Connor Murphy alone.

Now we'll see if Crawford can use this performance as a bit of a springboard going forward.

"The reality is he has had a lot of time off and hasn't played much in the last two years," coach Jeremy Colliton said Friday. "But the best thing for him to do is keep playing. He could get better as he goes.

"(He's) made some saves for us -- no question -- in all the games he's played since he's come back. We have to help him a little more, too.

"But his high level is very high, so the quicker we get him there the better."

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